TULSA, Okla. – Breaking the Keith Kunz Motorsports stranglehold on preliminary A-Feature victories at the Chili Bowl Nationals, Justin Grant took a hard-fought wire-to-wire win in Friday night’s feature at Tulsa Expo Center.
In winning his third straight Friday night main event—and his first since parting ways with Clauson Marshall Racing before the end of the 2018 season, Grant, the polesitter, held off a determined charge from speedy Tanner Thorson who started third and finished .168 seconds behind the winner.
Both Grant and Thorson earned guaranteed starting spots in Saturday’s A-Main, which will determine this year’s champion in the Super Bowl of midget racing. The exact positions on the grid will be determined in the Pizza Express Pole Shuffle, scheduled for 5 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.
“Man, I love racing Friday,” an elated Grant said after exiting his No. 4A racer. “Everybody books their plane tickets for Friday morning. They’re here to see it. It’s a big crowd. I love racing Friday night. It’s a great atmosphere here when it’s packed. We want to maybe try and get a Saturday this year, but we’ll keep taking Fridays when we can get ‘em.”
Grant started the day charging from eighth to second his Heat 7 and came from sixth to win Qualifying Race 4, earning the pole for the A-Feature. Grant is driving a Bullett chassis fielded under owner Rick Young’s RAMS Racing banner this year.
“I’ve had the privilege of driving some really great race cars in here, but none of them as good as that one,” Grant said. “I’m really looking forward to Saturday. The track was pretty fast, and sitting on the front row obviously made things a lot easier.”
Grant and Thorson caught traffic 10 laps into the 25-lap feature, but Grant never gave Thorson an opportunity to make a winning pass.
“He was really good and didn’t make any mistakes, and that’s what I think it came down to, not making any mistakes,” Thorson said.
Chad Boat finished third in Friday’s A-Feature, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Tucker Klaasmeyer (KKM’s highest finisher), Alex Schutte, Daryn Pittman and Dave Darland.
Keith Kunz Motorsports drivers Logan Seavey, Kyle Larson, Rico Abreu and Christopher Bell had won the A-Features on the first four nights of competition. The Chili Bowl expanded from four preliminary nights to five this year.
But neither Grant nor Thorson believes the powerhouse teams of KKM and Clauson Marshall are invincible.
“It feels great to come here and beat those big teams,” Grant said. “Walking through the pit area, they can be intimidating, but you only have to race one car at a time. They’re not unbeatable.”
Boat made a costly error while running second in the second qualifying race, fell to sixth at the finish and lost a chance at a front row start in the A-Feature.
“One small mistake cost us the night,” Boat said. “But we’ll see what we can do tomorrow.”
Spencer Bayston, KKM’s other Friday night entry, wrecked during his qualifying heat but fought his way through the C- and B-Features to the A. Bayston finished ninth in the main event, missing a transfer to one of Saturday night’s B-Mains by one position.
He’ll have to advance from a C-Main if he hopes to run for the title.